By Kenyon Stronski
When last we talked, we looked at Cao Cao, a military leader, tactician and grand chancellor of the Easter Han Dynasty — leading him to be one of the central figures of the Three Kingdoms period. Now, we move on to Dong Zhou – a general, political and warlord who used the young Emperors of Eastern Han for his own devices. A man that was so evil, in the official records of his death he was left in the street with a lit wick placed upon his body; it is said the fire burned for days on the fat and oils of his body. A special order was also given that whoever would attempt to collect or go forth to the body would be killed.
Dong Zhou was not a liked man.
Zhou was born sometime in 140 A.D. and is said to have been a good youth — chivalrous, strong, and had a particular affinity for horseback archery. Come 165 A.D., he would serve in a branch of the Imperial Guard known as the Wulin corps in the capital Luoyang. Leading on he became a county magistrate in the Commandery of Yanmen, an inspector of the Bing Province and an administrator of the Hedong Commandery.
Eventually, the Yellow Turban Rebellion broke out in the summer of 184 A.D. and Zhou was sent to take over from another general. Zhou’s initial efforts were rather unsuccessful, however with another general arriving victory was shortly gained.
Zhou was given a variety of titles in the 180s including General Who Smashed the Caitiffs and General of the Vanguard — he was also given a promotion to be governor of the Bing Province however he was unwilling to leave his men and thus never attended his post. During this time, Zhou was beginning to smell blood in the water and see the writing on the wall for the Eastern Han dynasty — so he built up power.
Emperor Ling died in 189, and following an order from General-in-Chief Dong Zhou, would lead his men towards Luoyang to aid him in eliminating a faction of eunuchs known as the Ten Attendants.
The Ten Attendants were an extremely powerful eunuch faction and given the opportunity — would have used the child Emperors to further their own gains. However before Zhou could arrive, the general was assassinated by the eunuchs and the capital fell into absolute chaos. Taking the emperor hostage, the eunuchs fled Luoyang however were intercepted by Dong Zhou and ferried back to the palace.
Following his arrival in Luoyang, Zhou took command of the leaderless and disorganized forces there, convinced Lu Bu to join his army and proclaimed himself the Excellency of Works.
Following his proclamation, Emperor Shao was deposed by Zhou and replaced by Emperor Xian. Emperor Xian was younger than Emperor Shao, and thus more likely to fall victim to Zhou’s poisonous words. Zhou would proclaim himself chancellor and became the head of the Imperial Court in Luoyang.
It was said that Dong Zhou exhibited many disrespectful gestures in the Emperor’s Court. Some being that he still carried a sword in the Emperor’s presence and he would walk normally — when people were meant to trot.
In the same year of Zhou’s rise to power, officials and warlords from the surrounding regions formed a Coalition force to launch a campaign against the tyrant. After some losses, Zhou would evacuate Luoyang and move to Chang’an. Before this migration though, troops were ordered to sack the tombs of the Han emperors for treasures and to steal valuables from the wealthy.
This led to Luoyang being so heavily damaged that Coalition forces opted to retreat rather than hold the former capital.
When more fighting took place, the Coalition was already falling apart due to infighting. It was also said that Dong Zhou would torture and maim Coalition captives so harshly that morale within the soldier ranks was extremely low.
For a few months, Zhou would hold massive banquets in the new capital where torture was common. Thousands of public servants were wrongfully accused, kidnapped, killed, executed, and tortured.
The one downfall of Dong Zhou was Lu Bu. Lu Bu was Zhou’s personal bodyguard and foster son who was also praised as one of the most effective generals on the battlefield; unbeatable in a duel. Following a few slights, and some encouragement from an Interior Minister, Lu Bu would make the decision to assassinate Zhou, who would then be killed in 192 A.D.
As stated in the start, it was said Dong Zhou’s body burned for days, while nobody was allowed to go near or attempt to retrieve the body. Former generals under Dong Zhou would flee due to the thought of their association with them being treason, and were not allowed to be pardoned for their crimes.
However, Dong Zhou’s loyalists, namely Li Jue, Guo Si, Zhang, Ji and Fan Chou would raise an army to attack Chang’an. With an army of around 100,000, they would surround the capital, and take the emperor back into their hands.